In the Hebrew myths, God formed Lilith from filth and sediment, rather than the pure dust from which Adam was created (Graves). When she refused to let him take the superior position during sex, saying “why must I lie beneath you? I also was made from dust, and am therefore your equal,” Adam tried to force her, whereupon Lilith fled to the Red Sea, a region full of demons whom she mated with, bearing lilim at a rate of hundreds per day. When Adam complained, God sent a trio of angels to compel Lilith to return under threat of drowning. Ultimately, she stayed at the banks of the Red Sea, but God punished her by making one hundred of her children die each day, and compelling her to destroy them, herself, when she couldn’t find a human child to murder.
Angrboda (Angrboða) is “a giantess in Jötunheimar,” (according to Lindow, quoting Snorri), the mate of Loki, and the mother of Fenrir the wolf, the Midgard serpent, and Hel. Whether referred to as “She Who Offers Sorrow,” “Bringer of Sorrow” or “Border of Anguish,” Angrboda is – like Lilith – a bearer of monstrous children. Both of them had their offspring taken from them, as well: in the case of Angrboda by the Norse gods, when they realized the threat the giantess’ children posed; in the case of Lilith, as punishment. The Greek Lamia – often connected to Lilith – also had her children taken from her, and like Lilith, she is a danger to the children of others (she devours them).
I see multiple themes at play, here. First, we have a primary thread: a mother, who bears monstrous children. On top of that are additional layers: punishment for resisting male dominance, the forced removal of offspring, and the malevolent, supernatural mother who becomes a danger to human children. Monstrous children – and their removal – might be interpreted as punishment for refusing to conform to existing social structures, but Is the fear of monstrous children reflective as well of a general fear of what children might become, under the tutelage of a powerful mother who parents outside of the existing order (in the case of Angrboda, this would be her status as a giantess, rather than as one of the Aesir)? Or might it spring from something simpler, like attributing a deformed child to a moral failing on the part of the mother? These stories could be seen as cautionary tales, encouraging women to stick to cultural norms, or risk being cursed with monstrous children that will then – for the good of society – be taken from them, or they could represent fear of feminine creation. There are shifting, but clearly related stories going on, and not enough examples for me to pull the elements apart and examine them as thoughtfully as I’d like to… at least not yet.
Can you think of other examples of a mother of monsters, appearing in myths and stories – whether she seems to be Lilith in another form, or far removed but having some of the same qualities? I’d like to gather more examples so I can identify where the threads are and where they drift, and see if I can develop a more consistent theory about the mother of monsters, and the meanings that might be attributed to her. I’ll edit this post as I learn more.
Side note: images of Angrboda are few and far between. The ones from this post are from nearpictures.com – if anyone knows who the specific artists are, I’d love to attribute them correctly.